The Spiritual Discipline of DIRTPost written by Traci McGrath on 11 May 2011
But only those who see take off their shoes.”
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning
One of the best perks to our new simplified schedule is that the boys have plenty of time to dig and explore. I love to watch the older one get lost in his own world whenever mud, dirt, and bugs are available for his play. A kid who you might say is borderline hyperactive indoors becomes so focused, so quiet, so in touch with creation – in a way that makes a big difference for the rest of the day. It’s cleansing for him, and sanity for me.
So I love seeing him dig…but it gets better. I read some fascinating brain research this week (in a free e-book from the Parenting Passageway) which concluded immersing kids in the quiet of nature actually builds the type of brain that is more open to spiritual depth later in life. Scientists are finding that, with the introduction of screen media, the structure of our brains is actually changing, now unable to perceive more subtle sensory experiences, but demanding greater and greater stimulation. The “new brain” which is emerging is less able to meditate, to enjoy quiet, or to listen for subtle sounds such as those found in nature or in classical music. One suggestion here is that dulling our senses to the quiet experiences in life closes us down to meditation or a deepening spiritual life.
The positive part of this story (and a great plug for digging!) was that early connections with nature do the opposite for growing brains – the subtle textures and sounds of nature all build the type of brain which can sense deeply even the most subtle of experiences – so the ability for prayer, deep thought, and meditation is strengthened.
So it seems to me that a good dig in the dirt has great benefits, not just for today, but for a lifetime of growing spiritually. Truly, the greatest spiritual growth comes not in the noise and lights but in the quiet searching – something I know I have less patience for than I would like.
When I think of teaching my kids to dig into nature (as if that requires teaching), I love the simplicity of Matthew Sleeth’s words in Serve God, Save the Planet:
If the boys can remember that, they will have a lifelong gift of simplicity, of health, and spiritual depth. Just a few more great reasons to go out and dig!